Monday, December 27, 2010

What is Sociology of Education?

This essay will firstly define education and sociology then it will define what sociology of education is and come up with a suitable definition on sociology of education from various definitions. This suitable definition will be discussed further because it speaks much of what goes on in education system.

Peter Snelson (1974) defines education as a condition of human
Survival. It is the means where by one generation
Transmits the wisdom, knowledge and experience
Which prepares the next generation for life duties
And pleasure.
This definition on education helps us to act with more insight and more intelligence in molding the youth in an acceptable manner. We can give a sound academic mission to the youth by teaching them survival skills such as carpentry, pottery, basketry and other survival skills which can better their lives. Human beings not only acquire new skills but also form the society. To this effect parents and teachers should work hand in hand in order to help the youths themselves have knowledge and in coming up with relevant ways it’s a matter of assisting them. By teaching the young ones, knowledge is transmitted from one generation to the next. This simply enlightens us that education is a continuous process. The statement “sky is the limit” helps us to have a wide knowledge about all aspects of education. Education prepares individuals to do things it is their responsibility to do them. For instance parents have the duty to teach children good morals in order to prepare them for the challenges ahead.

It is of paramount importance to define sociology before defining sociology of education. This is because sociology is related to sociology of education. Auguste Comte was the first man to come up with the term sociology, which means “the study of society”. A society is where a group of people live as a community. A society could be a village, a school, a rest house, a college or a university. All these units of society mentioned are part of the human beings and their social environment. Human beings belong to different groups where socialization takes place and they have influence on others.

Auguste Comte (1798) elaborates that “sociology is a study of social order or stability and change or progress of the society and its social systems or institutions”. Comte looks at interaction and interdependent among social institutions and society. He referred to institutions which exist such as education, economic, political, cultural and legal. He said there is constant ness between them and the society as well. He further elaborates that there must be values why people live together and that stability is important in education because it holds people together. Values are evaluative aspects of our belief and they involve judgment such as appreciation of beauty. Words in a society, people follow what is expected of them in order to be accepted. In society there are social changes which may be planned or not planned to follow.

Another sociologist Emile Durkheim looked at sociology as the “study of social facts which must be regarded as things, and that these social facts have influence on individuals”. To Durkheim, these facts are external to any particular biological individual. Social facts could be things a human being encounters throughout his life and could also be external forces. External forces are things which influence an individual such as school, the church, peers and many others. In other words, things around which a person comes in contact with can change, develop or progress him in terms of behavior. This means that the kind of personality one becomes depends very much on the social environment. Human beings behavior can be explained or observed in the manner which is similar to the way facts are stated that the individual is free to make choices and any out comes can be explained exclusively through the study of his or her ideas and decisions.

Generally, sociology is a “study of society or a scientific study of human interactions” sociology is the branch of science that studies behavior in groups. Sociologists are most interested in knowing how these people interact with each other. They want to know how groups influence individuals and how the individuals influence the group. Sociologists have discovered that human beings do not know themselves until they are in groups. They know everything about themselves because other human beings create a society and live according to that society, social reality. Social realities are given guidelines of a society and see things from society. They share values, symbol, pattern of behavior and territory. Sociology does not solve problems, but get information to help the people solve problems. Sociology offers a perspective (a view of the world). View of the world is referred to as a sociological perspective or as a sociological imagination. This opens a window to another world. Hence, sociologists have come up with different definitions of sociology of education. It is easy to study sociology of education after discovering what sociology is.

Ezewu (1990) defines sociology of education as “a scientific study of human behavior in groups having for its aim the convening of regularities and order in each behavior and expressing these sceneries as theoretical propositions that describe a wide variety of patterns of behavior in learning environment”. This definition shows that there is a very close relationship between the individual and the society. It looks at how children become fully-fledged socialization. Further more, the definition talks about social relations in a learning environment and network of such relations which are known as society.

Peter Harold (1968) defines sociology of education as “the study of origins, organizations, institutions and development of human society”. His definition refers to the study of sociology of education by using the historical approach. It studies initial specific conditions. For any institution, organization or society to develop properly there is needed to trace the origin or background. In other words this approach explains how society and the institution develop. It looks at interactions within the society and also society and other institutions. There are also possible outcomes or achievements of these interactions.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) who is regarded as the ‘father’ of sociology of education clearly defines sociology of education as “a systematic study sociological perspective”. This definition of sociology of education is suitable because it speaks much of what goes on in education system. It clearly states that it is important to know sociology before knowing what sociology of education is. This is because sociology is related t sociology of education.

The statement “sociological perspective” stresses the social context in which people live such as society. Society is a group of people who share a certain culture and a territory. Perspective is a view of the world and it is referred to as a sociological preservative or sociological imagination. Durkheim’s statement helps us to understand that sociological perspective opens a window to another world or unfamiliar world. As we look at other world or our own, sociological imagination casts another form of light on us. This in return enables us to gain a new vision of social life. In other words it helps us to find out why people do what they do like eating, talking and many more. Sociological imagination also looks at social locations. A social location is where people are located in a particular society. Sociologists consider jobs, age, race, income, gender and they also look at types of jobs we are doing in order to understand our behavior. Behavior is studied in order to discover the regularities and order in that behavior and expressing these discoveries as theoretic prospective or generalization that describes a wide variety of patterns of behavior. The discovering of these irregularities is due to the fact that man has culture and living in a group demands interaction with one another in that group.

Durkheim further stated that sociology of education is the “study of education”. He applied a sociological approach to the understanding of education system unlike other sociologists who defined the term sociology of education. He also came up with idea that education should be studied from the sociological perspective which helps students to understand sociology of education. To Durkheim school system is the main focus of sociology of education. To this effect he looked at the structure of the school and interactions in the school. He looked at the way individuals interact, that is teachers with fellow teachers, teachers with pupils, administrators with fellow administrators, administrator with teachers and pupils and pupils with fellow pupil. He looked at how discipline can be maintained in schools since in sociology of education; we try to understand the problem of education from a sociological perspective. Durkheim not only looked at interactions within the school but also the relationship between the school and the community. He looked at the outcome of these interactions because individuals have influence on other individuals and society has influence on the education system.

Apart from the structure of the school, Durkheim also looked at the functions of education and society. He believed that it was the duty of education to make responsible and reliable citizens out of school children. To work out this, parents and teachers need to work hand in hand to achieve a common goal. The school can make the behavior of a learner depending on the type of administration in which a learner is found. Looking at what Durkheim noted on education, there is correlation on what he said and the education system in Zambia . If we look at the education system in Zambia we find that some schools succeed while others fail. This is as a result of bad schools, effective schools and good schools. In terms of organization. In bad schools the performance of pupils and teachers is not as expected. This may be due to poor quality of education. Effective schools are schools which produce good results due to effective teaching but do not make learners to be accepted members of the society intern of behavior. Where as in good schools there are higher expectations, good monitoring, safe and orderly environment. For a learner to perform as expected to achieve a common goal, there should be a conducive environment. In other words there should be mutual relationship. To elaborate more on Durkhiem’s ideas, where ever there is a group of people, there is participation, cohesion (unit) and conflict. These lead us then to understanding that sociology of education becomes the study of association in terms of participation and unit (cohesion) in schools. On the other hand, it becomes the study of disassociation in terms of conflicts in schools. Durkheim also observed that there is no single education system which is true. If we look at the education system in Zambia , it does not mean that it is the same education system that prevails in other countries. The curriculum in Zambia is different from that in Nigeria . For example, universal primary education (UPE) scheme in Nigeria is functionally intended to ensure that every child receive formal education at least up to the primary school leaving certificate level. This is different from the Zambian system.

Durkheim believed that every society had its own education system which was shaped by the society-cultural needs. He also believed that education was the influence exerted on the young generation by the old generation and this influence was a changing process. He should that changes in education practice have a relationship with changes in societal beliefs and practice. Hence, he believed that education was a social control and transmission of knowledge.

In conclusion, Durkheim’s definition of sociology of education is the integral part of the education process. This is profe enough that his definition is suitable because someone can read his classic work on sociology and education with great interest. All in all he stands out as the founder of the discipline and the classic sociologists of education. His contribution to sociology of education has stimulated sociologist to do research in a number of areas. These areas are those that Durkheim had already researched such as function of education, relationships of education to societal change and many more. From his findings came up with the term sociology but not sociology of education as Durkheim did.


1. Anderson, C.A. (1968). Education and Society. New York : Macmillan.

2. Banks, O. (1968). The Sociology of Education. London : Batfered.

3. Ezewu, E. (1969). The Sociology of Education. London : Longman Group

4. Huyte, E. (1969). The Role of the Teacher. London : RKP.

5. Musgrave, P.W. (1979). The sociology of Education. London : Methuen
and Co. Ltd.

6. Peter, S. (1974). Education Development in Northern Rhodesia 1883
Lusaka : Kenneth Kaunda Foundation.,,

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